ASK LISA

I’ve been meaning to write this story for months, but I think the reason I didn’t was because it needed privacy, and time to progress, percolate, and permeate through me until it grew from one small stone into an incredible, inverted pyramid.

It started out as a feeling, which then grew into a single thought. ASK LISA.

Now, for reference, Lisa is a friend of mine, but when this all started we were mere acquaintances, social media buddies. Not real life friends, yanno? She was high above me, a professional editor. The demands on her time for the written word? I can’t even begin to imagine.

My perspective and our friendship changed (from night to day) however, when I finally did what that feeling was prompting me to do. ASK LISA.

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So, side note: I shelved my Cupid story nearly two years ago, and we’re talking, buried it the ground, in a dungeon with no key, in a castle made of sharp things and black tar, with no doors or windows, on top of the highest mountain guarded by dragons and warlords and spiders.

That first story of mine, FOR THE LOVE, with a dark Cupid, had killed my spirit, my muse, and my mojo. And it was never coming out, grounded for eternity, and could rot in misery alone and cold and DIE, DIE, DIE as far as I was concerned.

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That was the plan, at least.

After I buried it, I took a mental break, before I was struck to write again, some months later. That’s something I have blogged about. But what I haven’t told you is what’s happened since.

In December 2016, I was on a writing break, due to having just completed two drafts of two different stories within a two months span. I was spent, and it was the holidays. I made plans to start edits January 1, 2017.  Which is an achievable goal and what-have-you.

So, of course it was somewhere around mid-December that the characters from FOR THE LOVE started digging their way out of that box in the ground in prison. They started rattling on the iron bars, softly as if they meant no harm. As if they’d changed their ways. There was no menace in their voices, and they called to me, but I refused to hear them, added a layer of soot and Sahara sand, and went about my merry holiday way.

When the Christmas tree was sparkling and things were quiet, Lenox or Rozlyn would surface. I was impressed by their digging skills, but that wasn’t enough to get me to listen. More soot and sand. All was quiet again, holiday treats were consumed, and Santa came.

On a bitter cold January day, when I sat down to write with my good friend Daniel, I said something like, “Well, this is the moment where I must decide. Edit THIS, or edit THAT, or rewrite THAT HORRIBLE SIX-YEAR-OLD THING I CALL A NOVEL.”

I shocked myself–surprised at the words that came out of my mouth. I had no intentions of rewriting anything, let alone FOR THE LOVE.

Daniel asked me if I knew what I wanted to do to the story, if something had come to me that would change it. Again, my mouth did its own thing.

“Yeah, I think so.” Uhhhhno.

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Not once had I ever thought about what I’d do to it. My plan was to do nothing. Let it rot!

To make this long story slightly shorter, I decided to give it five chapters. FIVE. No more. If I couldn’t make five chapters shine, then I would lock it back up.

Because while this Cupid story is my baby, it’s also like an abusive boyfriend, and I do not mean to make light of such a thing. But honestly, I felt so beat up by it. I’d cried, I felt betrayed; I was hurt. And I know better than to go back to a situation that didn’t make me feel good. But the crazy thing was, as soon as I cracked the dungeon open and let it a sliver of candlelight, the characters rejoiced and starting talking to me.

And you know what?

They’d grown up some.

They were sharper, more direct, eager to have me back. They were nicer than before, and they didn’t crowd me. And even better, I’d grown and changed and was more capable of telling their story than I was six years ago.

So, I’ve been rewriting. Not editing. Rewriting. I started by reading what I had written, and after chapter one, I wanted to cry all over again. It sucked! That chapter sucked! I pushed on and read chapter two, and same, I SUCK! When I got to chapter three, I wasn’t sure I could handle reading any more, because all those old wounds were opening up and it was painful. But I went on, a masochist, I suppose. However, something happened it chapter three.

I didn’t suck.

That chapter wasn’t so bad. Actually, most of us it was pretty good. I read four and five with hope blossoming in my heart, and then I shut it down. I closed that document up, with plans not to return to it unless necessary.

I opened a white page document. The cursor blinked at me, challenging, pushing, teasing, mocking while I stalled.

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Fear was so huge, I could barely get past it. It was so intimidating and solid, I should’ve assigned it to guard the castle. Maybe then I wouldn’t have been drawn back to the story like a prince to a damsel in distress.

I wrote the first sentence. It was a bad one. It sucked worse than anything I’d written in those five old chapters.

But I went on and wrote the second line. And tears welled up in my eyes, and fear pushed it’s big belly out and into my face. There was no way I could do this. All the real voices came back–all the negative feedback, all the rejections, all the emails from authors in various stages of writing with their comments, all of it–came rushing at me. It was like standing at the base of Niagara and trying to take a drink. Very specific comments came barreling at me, things people I had respected or admired said that were in actuality hurtful, icy, and flat-out not encouraging. Just typing this makes me cringe, and I admit, I’m not sure I trust those certain someones to not throw down the same kind of talk regarding what and how I write. I can and have forgiven, but I am less likely to return to them for insight or advice.

Somehow, I persevered and wrote the third miserable, weak sentence to a story I have no title for. Because it’s not FOR THE LOVE anymore. It’s just not.

And then four came.

And then five.

And then I had a paragraph. And it wasn’t pretty but there it was, and it felt good to press on and put Big Bad Fear into place. Fear had to shrink back and pull in his gut, because I was wielding my little writing dagger, so help me.

And after five chapters, I took a big breath, and said to myself, “Self, we’re taking this first chapter to Storymakers, to the First Chapter workshop, and if I get more than five red marks telling me to do better . . . then we’re quitting this story.”

But before that happened, Ms. Inner Voice whispered ASK LISA to read it.

And I told her No.

You don’t ASK LISA to do that kind of thing. It’s bad manners. Unprofessional. Just, no.

So I didn’t, and I ignored Inner Voice for three weeks until she was so persistent and loud that I realized it wasn’t Ms. Inner Voice at all, but God whispering to me. So I pull out my Adulting Skillz and wrote Lisa a message. Would she be willing to look at 10 pages for the first chapter workshop?

To my shock, and somewhat to my horror, she said YES. Guys, I was planning on a kind thanks-for-asking-but-NO.

Then I panicked, because I had to send chapter one, and I’d just written it. If it was ink, it would’ve been wet!

But adulting skillz on, I sent it.

And she bled me. But not so bad I cried. Actually it was like the best kind of bleeding ever–if that’s even a thing. Her red marks were blissful notes for me to work through.

And I did. I worked my tail off.

And I thanked her and went to Storymakers. With a raging case of pneumonia.  (That’s a whole different story, but suffice it to say, after being hospitalized and fully drugged, I went to the conference in my stoned-but-determined state. I remember some of the conference. Well, the parts I didn’t sleep through anyway.)

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And when my mentor handed me my ten pages, the pages she’d gone over, I took a deep breath, and started counting the comments.

There were lots. I lost track after page four. But the thing was, all of them were positive.

There was only ONE . . . ONE TEENY TINY COMMENT that wasn’t a “fix this,” but a “hey, you could do this here.” It was “You could add a subjective correlative.” Guys, that’s upperclassmen talk. That’s working-on-my-doctorate chat. Those big words aren’t newbie words. In the past, they would’ve gone over my head, but this time, I swallowed them up and thought about it.

And I walked away on cloud nine, high above the castle of deep despair.

And then I was still sick and lost a month of my life to pneumonia. But when I was better, I reread the comments. That’s when Ms. Inner Voice came back and said, ASK LISA to look at chapter two.

And I said NO.

That’s not professional. That’s bad manners. Just, no.

Until, you guessed it, I got the message. It wasn’t Inner Voice at all. It takes me a while to learn that, I guess.

So I did that adulting thing again, and messaged her and was scared and feeling stupid.

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And that’s when my life CHANGED in one of the most positive, encouraging ways ever. I mean, it’s next to meeting my husband and having my four kids. It ranks up there with all the important memories in my life.

Lisa said, YES. And less than half hour later, she returned chapter two back to me with her notes, and asked me:

“Soooooo…..are you going to let me read chapter 3? *puppy dog eyes*

I about died.

And after chapter three, she asked for four, and then five.

And somewhere around that time, I started to freak out. I was already living in a weird, wired stated of writing and having Lisa look at every single chapter, but I was also living in constant fear that she’d quit me. That one day, she wouldn’t have time for me, or ask me for the next chapter. So I adulted and asked her to DEFINE OUR RELATIONSHIP. It was kind of teenagery, but I needed to know.

That’s when she graced me again with another little life changer. She said she wasn’t going anywhere and that she’d see this story through to the end, and a lot more nice things and it would kind of get molassesy and sugary here if I told you all the sweetness and confection that came from her. I was crazed with trying to understand how I’d hit a jackpot, scored a magical genie, and found the end of the rainbow all in one shot. Some days, I am still confused, but asking WHY doesn’t get you very far. So, I chalk it up to God.

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So, here we are at the beginning of November on chapter 19, chatting on a daily basis. I wake up to messages of encouragement or Supernatura gifs. Some days, I’m the one sending those messages to her.

I’m almost done drafting this baby, too.

And there are so many little stories that I could share about Lisa and this last year, but I’m out of time for now.

So suffice it to say, Lisa has converted me to SUPERNATURAL, has given me her wings when mine were broken, is a spotlight in my dim castle, the voice in my head when I write, the Goddess Supreme of fixing my poor sentences, and has a gift for taking me out in the knees while simultaneously handing me stilts.

I will never, ever, ever ignore the words ASK LISA from now on.

And God willing, if I rise above the writing fog, above the ozone layer of authors, and make it as a twinkling star in the universe of words, I will always and forever be able to say it was, in part, because of LISA.

So, Lisa . . . giphy1
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The Ultimate Conference Packing List

Packing for a conference is a BIG. DEAL. Less of a deal if you’re a dude, I suspect. Still, if you’re new and wondering what would be good to take along, or a seasoned vet who just needs a list so as to not forget something, maybe this post will help you.

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You should have no problem copying and pasting the list below into a word doc to customize and print. Yay!

While some authors showcase their incredible fashion sense at these events, others dress strictly for comfort. So, decide what you’ve got on your conference plate and select the appropriate attire.

If you’re pitching to agents or editors or presenting, dress for success. I vote you dress this way no matter what. Nice jeans and funny writing t-shirt? Go for it if you feel it’s best for you! Every conference has a certain feel, as well. Some are far more laid back and others are very business. Pack outfits for both if you’re not sure.

And, as a side note, I for one would rather always be over dressed than under-dressed.

Dudes, cut this list in half three times over, then add some jerky and Zombie Apocalypse gear, and I think you’ll be set.

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The Ultimate Packing List for a Writing Conference

Actual Clothes
♦ Shirts/Blouses/Tops
♦ Pants/Skirts/Slacks
♦ Socks
♦ Sweater/Jackets/Blazers
♦ Underwear
♦ Shoes/Gel Inserts
♦ Jewelry/Ties
♦ Extra fancy outfit for Galas/Award Ceremonies

Extra Threads
♦ Pajamas
♦ Work out clothes/Swimsuit
♦ Pillow/Neck Pillow/Snugglie–haha, but seriously
♦ Light Sweater (Conference rooms can be cold, then really hot)

Personal Toiletries
Because of the personal nature of these items, it’s tough to make a complete list, so I’ll just say this:
♦ Contacts! Solution!
♦ Toothbrush/Paste
♦ Makeup
♦ Hair supplies
♦ Deodorant

The Corner of Happy and Good Idea!
♦ Prescriptions
♦ Pain Meds (For headaches/sore feet)
♦ No-doz/Sleep Aide, depending
♦ Anti-diarrhea
♦ Heart burn
♦ Anxiety meds, if needed
♦ Extra fiber (Travel much?)
♦ Tissues
♦ Band aides–paper cut! Blisters!
♦ Moleskin, because blisters!
♦ Eye mask/Ear plugs
♦ Hand sanitizer/wet wipes/stain stick
♦ Hand lotion
♦ Lip Balm

The Write Stuff
♦ Pen/Pencil/Highlighter
♦ Notebook
♦ Laptop–Seriously. Bring it.
♦ Charging chords/mouse/thumb drive
♦ Business Cards
♦ Earbuds
♦ Money for the book store!
♦ Camera
♦ Phone/Charger
♦ Printed Copies of materials needed, like queries
♦ Books you own already that you’d like to have signed, if the author is attending
♦ Extra suitcase, if you buy a lot of books in the bookstore and need to get them home 🙂
♦ Print out of hotel reservation
♦ Email important documents to yourself to ensure you have copies
♦ Consider attaching a business card to phone/camera in case it gets misplaced
♦ Drink plenty of water

The Foodie Necessities
♦ Water Bottle
♦ Personal Snacks/Chocolate/Candy
♦ Beverages
♦ Gum/Mint
♦ Breakfast items to put in mini fridge (Classes start early!)

Miscellaneous
♦ Dress purse for fancy night out
♦ Cash for tips, vending machines
♦ Umbrella
♦ Extension cord (Esp. if you’re sharing a room…4 women, one bathroom)
♦ Extra hangers for hanging all your nice clothes in the closet
♦ Pins/Stickers you might have for lanyard
♦ Sharpie marker and tape for labeling shipping boxes
♦ A mini-wheeled cart (if you need to transport promo or books around)
♦ Kindle, if you prefer it over the app on your phone

You can bring whatever you’d like to the conference, but you’re also going to do some hiking even if you stay at the hotel where the conference is being held–so think like a backpacker. Consider what is truly needed rather than what isn’t, and leave the rest in at home or in your hotel room. Keep in mind that there is likely to be some swag, and that some conferences may provide a tote bag to carry papers and such around with you.

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What have I missed? Leave it in the comment and I’ll add it to the list!

Okay, one last gif for those of you who’ve come to expect it. (You know who you are.)

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AGENT ADVOCATE

So, while most everyone was at the book signing the 2016 Storymakers Conference, I was sitting out in the foyer, enjoying the company of my friends, alongside Marisa Corvisiero, the founder of the Corvisiero Literary Agency and Senior Literary Agent. I had pitched a story to her and was the last author on her list for the day. Now we were just enjoying ourselves, relaxing and laughing. Several other authors gravitated towards us, and even though the pitch session was over, Marisa continued to take pitches from anyone who joined us.

THIS, MY FRIENDS, WAS FASCINATING.

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I’ve never watched an agent take a pitch. Have you? I was the proverbial fly-on-the-wall, and I gotta say, the braves souls who did this in the company of their peers, and an agent, deserve some serious bonus points. As each author spoke about their story, questions were asked, comments were made, and at times, a discussion ensued. At one point, I commented I wanted to work for Marisa, because it was so cool to watch her work, listen to her advice, and learn more about her.

Looking back, one particular pitch still stands out to me.

The story had a time travel element, which turned out to be Marisa’s soft spot. I didn’t know she had a special place in her heart for quantum physics, but she said she “loves it so much she studies it on her commute to work.” So, essentially, this story was perfect for her. (THIS IS WHY KNOWING WHAT AN AGENT IS LOOKING FOR IS SO VITAL.)

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It became clear to me that the author pitching the story wasn’t loving Marisa’s advice, which would require adjusting the time travel. Marisa expressed how much she’d want to see this story, if it were edited to obey the laws of time travel. But for the author, her body language and facial expressions said it would impact the whole story and require a hefty rewrite–that Marisa didn’t know what she was talking about and boy, “I’m not doing that!”

Hearing Marisa’s suggestions made my heart heavy for the author, yet at the same time, I wanted to cheer, “You can do it!”

Marisa’s preference is hers, as is every agent’s in the industry. They represent certain genres for a reason. Not just because. And yes, it’s entirely possible that a different agent would be okay with the way the time travel is set up in this author’s story.

But. That’s when someone–not Marisa–made this comment:  Time travel readers will feel that it’s off.

This is a big deal, because if a die hard time travel reader can’t wrap their head around the story, or stop half way because it’s just so off, then guess what? They STOP READING IT and they most likely won’t recommend it, and sadly, may leave a negative review.

This is the case for all genres. If you write romance, and there isn’t a single kiss, I personally will know it’s off, but worse, I’ll be so ticked, I’ll never buy another ‘romance’ book by that author.

Now, it should be said that sometimes readers THINK they’re getting an erotica, when really they’re getting a historical fiction, and then they blame the author. This happens. Case in point: years and years ago, when a friend handed me a book, I thought it would have some romance because it was YA. Guess what? Not a romance. It was Hunger Games–and that story is so far from a romance. I was so annoyed, but I was hooked. I wanted a real kiss and all the lovey stuff, and what I got was blood, blood, blood, and death! In fact, the romance reader in me is dying right now just thinking about the ‘romance’ in that series. BUT IT’S NOT THE AUTHOR who screwed that one up. It was all me wanting a romance while reading Not-A-Romance book! I was all:

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I really can read just about any genre, as long as the romance element is there.

Really. I can. My writing friends are laughing at me as they read this, I know, but seriously, I can.

And I can even read NOT-ROMANCE, but I won’t love it. I just . . . won’t. I need the kissing!

P.S. I Heart McQueen

Anyway, distinguishing what genre you are can be really tough in the beginning. I remember a time when I hated the question: What do you write?

Hell if I knew.

But you’re the one who has to know. You have to know the rules associated with your genre. I’m still learning mine and that makes it fun, because then you can learn to bend the rules a little. Or break them completely.

I’ve taken the advice of agents before, and if you’re wondering if it resulted in a contract or a best seller, I’ll be the first to tell you it did not. However, it did make me a stronger writer. Every time I’ve listened to an agent, it’s made me a better author. Now, it should also be said they are human, and not gods and it’s not like everything they say is law or right. But so far, for me, not once has their advice come around to bite in my the arse.

Their suggestions weren’t fun to hear. In fact, it was down right impossible in my mind, because it meant work for me. I swear I heard “Eat an elephant,” and yet, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to take one bite–because, EW!! ELEPHANT? GROSS! NO! WAY! I’m not eating that!

Over a year ago, I got some feedback from an agent that crushed my muse. I wanted to quit so bad that day, and in a way, I did. It took months to recover and find my love for drafting again. Thankfully, I have an army behind me, and a good husband, and the little fact that I’m a push-through-try-to-survive-e. After a long pity party, I slowly re-emerged, still a caterpillar, but stronger.giphy9

Some days I want to crawl under a rock and die. Writing is that hard.

So, to sum up. From where I sit, an agent’s advice trumps a lot of other voices. You need your CPs and your writing groups and the random strangers who help you through a first chapter contest. You do. But when an agent tells me something, part of what I hear is: “I can work with a story that falls within this scope.” It doesn’t mean, “I guarantee you I can sell it.” That advice is pretty valuable.

As an industry professional, agents and editors know what they’re up against far better than I do, because it’s their job. They know what sold yesterday, what’s in their inbox, what they’re pitching tomorrow. The have their finger on the pulse and can attest to the beat.

If the edits suggested go against all you believe and stand for, then okay, don’t do it and consider that they’re not the agent for you but if you leave your ego at the door, the adjustment could be the key to that invisible door in the concrete wall that is holding you back from publication. Also, you can copy the whole document, and save it somewhere, and then hack at the duplicated version and you don’t lose anything!

I was softly labeled as an Agent Advocate that weekend, and I took it as a compliment.

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I guess, a lot of it comes down to trust. Which is why it can be hard to take advice from anyone who looks over your writing. It forces you to be vulnerable and open, and it can really hurt, but also, it can be exactly what you need to hear.

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As Winter Settles In

I’m exhausted–but there’s a reason! In the last two months, I’ve written two first drafts!

My basketball story–which totally needs a title–is complete. In five weeks, I cranked out a 79,800 word story, and boy do I love this one.

My “lucky” story–which is tentatively titled PUSHING MY LUCK–is 88% done, and sitting comfortably at 56,000 words.

NaNoWriMo took a toll on me this year, but I had help with a co-ML, and without her, I don’t know if I would’ve made it.But I did! I was a survivor and also a NaNoWrimo Winner. Now, I just need to write the end to that story, but with the holiday’s its been tougher than ever to sit down to write. In fact, I haven’t written much at all over the last few weeks.

I’m finding that is the case with lots of my writing friends. They take this season “off.” Lots of agents slow down, too, as they close down to queries.

So, if you’re writing journey slows down, consider yourself normal. If you find now is the best time for you to hunker down and hammer out those words, then consider yourself a step ahead for the New Year.

Until next time,

Gina

I HAVE TO TRY

When I get this question:

Do you ever see yourself self-publishing? Why or why not?

This is my answer.

I’m a go-big-or-go-home personality, so I HAVE TO TRY for my own sake. It’s a ME THING. I want to know that I am good enough, that an agent looks at what I have and says, “Yes, this works and let’s sell this baby!” Now this reason might be silly and it really isn’t a good one for a lot of people, but for me, it is. I like the idea of being vetted—I suppose. I like the idea of seeing my books on shelves, in stores, etc. And I get that those dreams can be accomplished via self publishing. I do.

Self publishing has its perks—100% of the profits are yours. That alone can and could say it all. Money speaks to EVERYONE. Also, you have complete control. Another thing others love. It’s hard to turn it over to someone else when it comes to covers and titles and edits. But for me, those two things aren’t a big deal. With the right agent, it’s a team effort toward the same dream.

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Any one can self publish. It’s a flood gate for anyone to step through, and sadly, there is a lot of garbage that fits through that width. Now, certainly, there is some wonderful material that is self-published and should be celebrated and promoted, because it’s awesome. That said, traditionally publishing narrows that flood gate, screening the work before it gets through. And not all traditionally published material is awesome. Getting through those doors or windows isn’t impossible, but tougher. And for those that go big, key holes. They’re getting through key holes!

An agent, an editor, a team, etc. knows what it is going to take to get a book sold and they have their thumb on the vein—they feel the pulse of the industry, and that’s huge, to me. Self promoting one’s work is certainly going to be a part of the business, regardless of which route you go, and since there are varying degrees within publishing, from the big wigs to a small press, the same goes for the amount of marketing on my part. To say I won’t have to do marking if I traditionally publishing is kind of a lie. But what I do like is the idea of building a brand, with a professional team behind me.

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I’ve personally met agents, sat through classes and meetings with them, shared laughs and drinks with them, and while I know not all agents are created equal, and I am absolutely an Agent Advocate due this kind of interaction. I’ve gained immeasurable lessons from these experiences. Even after doing a huge Revise and Resubmit with an agent, which ultimately ended in a rejection, I learned something. That I can do hard things.

I watch their careers from afar, aka Twitter and such, partly out of awe, but mostly to see if what I write would be a good fit, if it’s on their Wishlist. It’s amazing and encouraging when they promote a book I’ve heard of, too. They’re behind their authors.

I also know they’re not super humans who can make my book a best seller over night with a movie deal on the side. They’re human beings, who have deadlines to meet, eat left-overs while reading through their slush piles in hopes of finding something that they will fall in love with and can sell, and you know, work hard to keep their job. They love books and the craft, and they get rejections from editors, and have to reject authors. It’s demanding and it’s not all rainbows and book signings. Heck, I haven’t got the slightly clue what muck they wade through, I just know there is some. Lots, probably.

But sometimes, it is book signings, and contracts, and deals. And sometimes, it’s even more that that. Sometimes.

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So for now, I trust my gut.

And it’s saying not to give up that dream yet. It says that I’ll know when, and if, I should shut the window and try the door, and if that doesn’t work, then I’ll be ready for the flood gates.

Yanno?

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And so that we’re clear, I can cheer on my author friends who chose to self publish, just as much as I can champion those who do make it with an agent at their side. Your path is not my path. My journey is mine, mistakes and all.

 

And, ultimately, I think traditionally publishing is possible with hard work, lots of editing, dedication, commitment, and a little luck. And it helps if you have one hell of a story.

The iWrite Retreat, and Why You Should Go To One

This past weekend, I attended the iWrite Retreat in Heber, Utah, and to my horror and delight I started a story.

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OVER.

As in, I deleted the whole thing. And started over. And it was so painful and scary and disheartening. And here’s why: After I’d read everything I had written, it just felt like it wasn’t right.

That’s the worst.

Feeling it isn’t right?  What the heck? It’s a story. It’s not a life-altering decision, like having a baby or getting married. Feeling the story wasn’t at it’s best, I made the hard decision to scrap it all.

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I highlighted every chapter, and dragged it down, and put it in the trash. (Thank you, Scrivener, for having a trash can, where I can trash something and know deep down it’s not gone forever.)

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Broken spirited, I wrote that first painful sentence, again. I crossed my ankles, closed my eyes and kept going.

When I peeked, I was half way done with that first chapter.

I squeezed my eyes again, and kept going.

And when I FELT like it was done, I opened my eyes, and there it was. A fresh, newborn draft.

I asked a friend if I could read it out loud to her. (Which I highly recommend reading your stuff out loud. You catch a ton of, shall we say crap? when you do that.) I began reading. When I finished, I looked up from my screen, and bravely asked: “Okay, what’s missing.”

We discussed points that could be improved, and I didn’t “edit” but I added words of clarification. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good-enough-for-now and I created chapter two, and repeated the process.

Then I read it out loud to her. And we repeated the clarification process, and I moved on. Hello, chapter three.

Well, by the time I completed chapter three, I had gained a few listeners. I’m not sure if they were truly invested, or just taking a break from their own writing, or felt obligated to listen because I’m loud and demanding and so big in spirit at these quiet retreats. I just dunno.

Imagine Sharpay…

 

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… in a library. That’s right. That’s me. (Hard to imagine that drama queen with a book in her hands. I know.)

By chapter four, I was more confident they were interested as the laughing was genuine and heartfelt and at one point, I thought one of the girls might pee her pants, she was laughing that hard. And I got to laughing because I tend to think I’m funny when I write and also because laughing is addicting.

Over the course of the three days, we did this. I wrote a chapter, then we’d have a reading session. We stayed up until 2:30am Saturday night to get to a kissing scene, recklessly abandoning sleep. I kept writing until they passed out, because the words were flowing and it FELT like I’d tapped into that something everyone calls THE MUSE.

On Sunday morning, I was half alive. We’re supposed to be checked out by 10 am, and after our cleaning and packing up was done, we found ourselves in another reading session, because I’d cranked out two more chapters. And we were laughing again, and I was so sad to say goodbye.

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I drove home, wishing I was a dragon writer so I could keep writing, but instead memorize lyrics to songs to stay awake.

Thank you FUN and TAYLOR SWIFT for carrying me home. I should totally dubsmash Enchanted and Carry On, but I’ll spare the world that kind of obnoxiousness.

And my point of this post is to say: Never underestimate the value of a retreat. Be it iWrite or otherwise. Just go. Do it for yourself. Go be inspired, be productive, and when you do, just know how grateful that one extrovert is. She know’s she an emotional vampire, sucking you dry of your energy. But she is so thankful you put up with her. Because without you, she can’t find her muse.

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Also, be brave enough to following those FEELINGS. Today, when I shared the newer first chapter with a friend who had read that original chapter, she looked at me and said, “It’s the same, yet different. Better.”

And the end story? I cut 21K words. Wrote 23K. (Can you believe that? Me, either!) Made new friends. Ate like a queen. Slept a total of 16 hours in 3.5 days, and it was 100% worth it.

 

Do you know of a writing retreat that is full of extroverts?  If so, you totally gotta tell me. Okay?

Last Minute {Conference Notes}

Saturday, May 7th, about 3pm. The Last Day of Storymakers 2016.

It wasn’t hard to adjust my pitch with Marisa Corvisiero when I was asked. By giving up my slot, it would keep other nervous authors and the agents on time. Besides, I hadn’t plan on having one to begin with so what did I have to lose by going last? Some of the authors waiting to pitch were doing it for their first time. They’d been sweating over this ten minute moment for months. They’d researched and read all about the agent they were headed in to meet. But this last minute change didn’t worry me.

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I wasn’t. To be truthful, I wasn’t even sure what story I was going to pitch. Not my recommendation to anyone who’s going to pitch to an agent. But I have my reasons.

Back it up a bit. Friday, May 6th, roughly 1 am, and things are getting fuzzy.

Classes start in a matter of hours, yet I’m awake as is most of the conference staff. Michelle Wilson, Agent Coordinator, posts on the conference FB page that they’ve had a few pitch sessions open up, and if anyone wants one, to PM her right away. The competition for these slots is certainly impacted by the late hour, but it’s still a race to get one. I see the post, and figure, “Why the h*** not?”

This was supposed to be the year I laid low at conference. Half of the agents attending had already REJECTED ME. Jenny Bent, Marisa Corvisiero, and Marlene Stringer. After a full Revise and Resubmit the year previously, which resulted in alas, a rejection, I was burned out. My faith in myself had been whittled down to a sliver, and while I was and am still a huge advocate for agents and traditionally publishing, I was just DONE.

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I’d go to classes and just hope the instructors lessons would seep into my brain.

Except.

I just said yes to Michelle, which meant I had a pitch. I paid for it, even. And because I’m a little crazy and my roommate Rachel and I are wide awake and scrambling at the late hour to land these pitches, I end up with two pitch sessions. Because, why the h***not? I’m not a quitter, or one to pass up an opportunity. Last minute changes are fine.

Friday Morning, 8 am.

I haven’t slept. My brain wouldn’t let me. It played out every good and bad scenario of pitching all night. My eyelids are glued to my eye balls, and I have so little energy or will to lift my head off my pillow, and brain cells are still yelling: GO! I need to print my query letter, since one of the agents wants to look at it as part of the pitch. Plus, CLASS!

9am.

I print 2 query letters, because again, I DON’T KNOW WHAT I AM DOING. WHO AM I PITCHING TO AGAIN? I haven’t had time to do any research. I only know Writer’s House is a big name in the industry, and that Marisa has rejected me—but she’s on my agent wish list because something in her bio said, “Yes, query her,” a year and a half ago.

9:20am.

I’m sitting in Jennifer Nielsen’s class, taking notes, but tears smear my black and pink ink.

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I kept alternating pens to satisfy my creative need, but she’s got me bawling with her inspirational message. I think she wrote it just for me. Gina, you have two choices. Quit, or Make it. Get published, work harder, don’t give up. I know you’ve had it rough. That you’ve come this far, you’ve done the work, you’re 99% of the way there. You even wrote that one story that made you so happy you forgot all the hard stuff.

How did Jennifer know I’d done that? Wrote LEVEL WITH ME without a care in the world?

How did she know I’d shelved FOR THE LOVE because I couldn’t seem to breathe life into it anymore? That there is no foreseeable future for that story, and that I’m up against a concrete wall, that has no door? giphy5

How does she know all of this?

I did just what she said was necessary. Put that first story away, took ten big breaths, and wrote something else. That something else is a light-hearted Romeo and Juliet retelling with extra kissing. And then I called it good. I DID NOT CARE what a soul thought about it and had no intentions of doing squat with it. I just wrote it for me.

Except.

That pitch is coming.

1:30pm

Calm, collected, and still unsure, time slows down for me. I sat down with Brianne Johnson who’s hair is shiny and her smile is reserved. She’s with Writer’s House, after all, so it makes sense that this feels big. Last minute I decided to share LEVEL WITH ME with her instead of FOR THE LOVE. I know it’s not high concept YA like she’s looking for, and that FOR THE LOVE is more up her alley, but I’m done caring. We talk, she smiles when she pieces together that Abby June is also A.J. and how that complicates things. I ask her, “Have you sold anything like this?” There’s this long pause, wherein my head voice says, “She’s sold a dozen romances like this.” She actually says, “No,” like she’s surprised at herself. “But I know some editors who want some YA with more romance.” She requests fifty pages, and I leave, feeling neither deflated or high. Maybe I should’ve felt high, but I can tell she’s not sure, and I know that it’s super hard to say NO to any author’s face.

A little later, I’m in class again. The last class before dinner.

I’m a bit of a mouth in Marisa Corvisiero’s class, asking questions, speaking from my experience on querying. At one point she calls a query letter a critique letter. I lean over to Serene, my other roommate and super spectacular friend, and whisper, “She meant Query letter, not critique letter, I think.” Marisa stops talking, pins me in my seat as she stares at me, then laughs lightly, admitting the slip up. She calls me loud or honest, I’m not sure, but it’s in a teasing way and then she picks up where she left off. She’s human, no one faults her for that slip up. And since I’m not the kind to die on the inside for that sort of thing, I just laugh to myself. She’s got mom ears, because I SERIOUSLY WHISPERED THAT. Some time later, we’re twenty minutes over. Serene has already slipped out—she won a dinner appointment with an agent like I did last year and didn’t want to be late. The class as a whole is still listening though. And I want to learn, and I want to be good at this, but when Marisa asks about the time, I voice my unfiltered thoughts. “We’re 20 over, but we like you. But we are hungry.”

After dinner, I find her and I issue an apology, and Marisa laughs, asking if she looks like the type to be offended. Later she comments how if that had happened in NY, people would’ve walked out on her, and how kind we all are for not doing that.

I think she kinda fell in love with Storymakers because of that.

Friday, late. After the Mix and Mingle.

We talk the night away. I can’t express how much of a late crowd we are. We are the late night crowd. If you’re looking to not sleep, join my crowd.

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Saturday Morning, 9 am.

It’s harder to move my arms today than it should be. But I’m in class on time—this time in Jenny Bent’s class, and we laugh and learn. And somehow my entire Tupperware of Dove chocolate, Cinnamon Bears, and York Minis disappears. This is a big deal, people. Without my supply, I’m going to crash and burn, but I don’t realize it’s gone until around lunch time, and all efforts to relocate it prove to be in VAIN. (Writers are also chocolate thieves, apparently. Still, I love them.)

I volunteered months ago to welcome instructors and kick off their class, so that makes me late to mine, but oh well. Then I serve as a time keeper, which is exactly that. Keep the agents and authors on time. When I arrive, we’re falling behind, and with Kaylee and Michelle, we work to get people back on track.

3:40pm My Original Pitch Time. (Also, I love that my name is in that word. Always took it as a sign.)

Someone else goes in to pitch their story, instead of me. It’s fine. Really. I gave my slot up. While I wait, Rachel talks me out of pitching all these bad ideas I have. I think it’s nerves, but my hands aren’t clammy. I’m now scheduled for 4pm, and I’ll be Marisa’s very last pitch.

When I go in, I find myself telling Marisa the time keepers are off to prep for the book signing, and I need to keep my own time. (Can I just say right here I have 5 books I brought for the books signing, and I’m looking forward it?) Marisa indicates she’s free until seven—and I die a little. A three hour pitch seems like a bad idea.

We find a comfortable spot to visit so they can set up the book signing, and we just TALK.

She’s a blast and it’s comfortable and enjoyable and we bounce around all these random subjects from the 10 year-old girl who pitched a story to her, to living in Idaho, to hockey, to my writing LEVEL WITH ME, to the actual pitch of the story. At this, I tell her it’s a light Romeo and Juliet . . . 

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. . . heavy on the kissing, with no awkward death scenes at the end. To which she says, “I can sell that!”

Wouldn’t that be awesome? I think.

We chat about my Cupid story, and how I’ve cut it from 135K words down to 116K, down to 82K. I tangent about the R and R, leaving out names, and then I confess. I’ve queried her with this Cupid story and she rejected it and rightly so. I sent it to her at the hefty 135K. Not once is she making any indication that we’ve talked too long or that she needs to go.

She tells me to send her the query, again, that her intern probably rejected it (Which is true) and the synopsis, and maybe “we can figure out what’s going on with it.” I can tell she’s not as into this fantasy story as much as the lovey-dovey kissing book, and that’s fine by me.

We talk about how I’d like to do three Idaho Falls romance stories, all based around some real-life things happening in my hometown.

We’re interrupted off and on, but it’s not a big deal and about 45 minutes later, I’ve decided if I ever have to pitch again, I want to go last. That’s for sure. We’re joined by some of my favorite people, Serene and Rachel, and eventually others, and Marisa makes no effort to excuse herself. We even tell her we don’t mean to keep her. She takes more pitches from anyone who sits down and is willing to share their pitch in this Shark Tank setting. It’s fascinating, it’s encouraging. It’s full of laughter and interesting points of view from Marisa, and I can’t bring myself to give up my seat next to her. Not for a book signing, or the bathroom, for that matter. I want every minute.

Marisa’s nearly late to the Gala, but she seems fine with this. She texts Rachel (I’m a little jealous, but moving on) hoping to join us after the award ceremony, and she does.

She spends nearly three more hours talking and laughing with us. I keep looking at Serene, and we share this unspoken “Is this real?” look. I can’t put my finger on it—why is Marisa still with us? Isn’t she tired of us?  Whatever the reason, she stays. 

When I crawl into bed at 4 am, I’m positive she’s in love with Storymakers, and the people it produces, and the spirit of our conference. That it’s less about me, Serene, and Rachel, and more about how she’s really enjoying herself.

Eyes closed for the night, I’m reliving some things. I think I sang a Barbie song at one point. Was Marisa still there? I dunno. I kinda hope so. Haha. I recall Marisa teasing me that I’m obsessed with kissing (which is true)

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and I know I have a concrete list of labels she gave me. I thought it was so funny that she kept describing me out loud, I started writing them down. Loud, honest, unfiltered, trouble maker, and pickable (meaning, I can be picked on and take it.) By the time I get to my Idaho home, she’s tweeted me, calling me Kissie and Miss Kissie. I’ll take it.

I’m impressed with her work ethic and drive, which was so evident as she continued to take pitches long after mine. Maybe she was still looking for that ONE STORY, but I don’t think so. I think she came to the conference to find authors to work with, to meet her standing clients, to teach us.

Above all, it was fun to learn about her life outside of being an agent, because AGENTS ARE PEOPLE. They love books and stories and while they juggle all the ins and outs of the industry, they’re just like the rest of us in so many ways.

And in the end, her presence combined with Jennifer’s class rekindled my desire to keep searching for that door in the concrete wall. To push myself harder.

I was attending Storymakers the way some people attend church. It’s just WHAT YOU DO on Sunday. I went because I WRITE.

And while I learned plenty, in the end, I FELT that heartbeat that feeds my writing.

Sunday Night, 9pm.

I’m out cold. And sleep for 13 hours. Trust me. I enjoyed every minute.

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The Army Behind Me

I’ve been busy working on LEVEL WITH ME, posting a chapter at a time to Wattpad, and I’m excited how it’s doing and that I’m nearly done with it. But that aside, I’ve actually been feeling a little blue.

And it’s not because of the weather..

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I got a rejection letter that cut super deep, stinging beyond the pale, and robbing me of my voice. It’s really hard to cry for help, too, when that happens.

I shed plenty of hot tears, lost a few nights of sleep, and haven’t been the same since.

Which isn’t fun.

On the brink of quitting, I wandered around for a few days. It didn’t help one bit when my six year old gave me this “letter”…

Sorry Note from Brooklyn

…or when my sweet heart told me that I was grieving, and that it was normal to be feeling all the feels. That just made it all the more difficult, I swear. Their hugs and patience with me as I mourned my own loss and struggled to find my footing is remarkable, and sends me spiraling. They put up with a lot, and I know they’re supportive of me, no matter which road I take with writing. They’re my first line of defense, and they are happy to protect me from anything.

But damn those writer friends of mine.

They’re less inclined to let me wander off. Instead, they’ve got their strings wrapped around me–strings I’ve allowed –and they started pulling right away when they saw me slipping.

Just weeks away from the First Chapter Contest for LDStorymakers16, I started getting hit up hard for help.

Help me?
Do you have a few minutes to look over my chapter?
You’re so good at this stuff–can you take a look at my first chapter?
I trust you–and I want your feedback.

I need you.

And lest you think I resent them, I don’t. Their words and questions pulled on those strings, lifting my lifeless body off the ground (or out of bed or off the couch as it were.) Stupid writer friends. They really know how to mend broken wings with words, and with each chapter that arrived in my inbox, my heart started to beat a little harder.

And I hate and love that there’s a country song for this, too.

 

So, now here I am, with a few Wattpadders dying for the last chapters of LEVEL WITH ME, and I’ve got a confirmation email that says I’m registered for Storymakers, and not one, but two story ideas are budding in my brain like tulips in spring. Not to mention that months ago I agreed to host a SE Idaho Writer’s Get Together at my house this week, wherein I would be preparing the food. Oh, and let’s not forget that I’m in charge of monthly writing meetings for our writing group and they’re counting on me, or the fact that I have writer friends waiting for me to give them feedback.

Even if I wanted to quit, they won’t let me. I can’t let me.  The pressure isn’t bad. It’s good. It’s helpful to feel needed. So while I may have taken a break from my own words, I’ve been pulled into the worlds my friends have created with theirs, and that feels good.

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Even though the tears haven’t flowed for a while now, I still feel the pain on the inside and question if what I’m doing is worth it, when after five years I have nothing published.

The only thing I really have to show for all my years of writing, aren’t things.

What I really have is an army of writer friends. Who totally get it.

Like a Blind Date

Let’s revisit how I feel about querying, shall we?

Remember I said it’s like trying to date the Quarterback?

Well, it’s also like going on a one-sided blind date. Which is super awkward for the person who’s going into the date blind.

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Sam Hunt has a song right now that I LOVE so much. It’s titled TAKE YOUR TIME. Now, if you don’t know this song, you should listen to it right now.

Go on. I’ll wait.sam_hunt_0_1418211245

See. Told you it was a good one. Now, I get that it’s more romance-y than querying, but think about it. (From a non-stalker point of view.)

I do want to take an agent’s time.
I know their name.
I don’t mean to be a bother, but I do have to say HI and see if we’re meant for each other.

But that’s super awkward when they have no clue who I am and I come out of the woodwork. It’s so much easier to personalize (hence, the word) a query when yanno, you’ve MET IN PERSON.

Cold Queries are COLD. And standing out isn’t a piece of cake unless you’re already a household name. Or have a career that has placed you on a perfect path for publication. OR USE YOUR VOICE, and present  a solid story pitch that has hook and heart.

So, my point is this. I queried FOR THE LOVE over a year ago to this *ONE*RAD*AGENT* that I’ve had my eye on for a lonnnngish time. The query was short, only told Lenox’s pitch, and was “complete” at 135K. Yeah. (Hey, don’t judge. I still had a lot to learn, and still do.)

She sent me a super kind rejection, and rightly so. She said she felt it was very interesting, but wasn’t right for her.

Since then, FTL and I have been through lots of  edits, and recently through the ringer, but it’s helped me, and the story grow. It now sits at 82K and I’m ready to try querying again.

So, what did I do yesterday?

That’s right. I sent out 3 queries.

1 went to *SUPER*RAD.*
1 went to a small press, that had taken interest in FTL, but the editor is no longer with company, leaving FTL hanging. (Did some research and was encouraged to resend it.)
And 1 went to a agent that is my BLIND DATE for the purpose of this story.

Well, here’s the part where I remind anyone out there in webville who’s reading this: AGENTS are human.

Some seem to be SUPERHUMAN, with their client lists and online presence and big personalities, but they’re really just super humans, with big hearts, unequivocal love for the written word, and tasked with the job of finding authors and stories to give us readers. They leave bread in the toaster as they rush out the door, buy milk, order contact lenses, and deal with auto-corrections in texts–just like the rest of us.

Based on some advice from a dear friend who takes time to mentor me occasionally, I prepared a new query for the agent tried over a year ago. I used the first sentence to announce just that, too. Here’s my query:

*Name of Agent,*

I admit, I queried you a year ago with this project. Right there might be reason enough to bypass me, but I wanted to resubmit FOR THE LOVE to you because it’s been through the ringer since that first query. I attended a conference–LDStorymakers 2015–and received some invaluable, critical feedback from an agent that I have applied to the entire manuscript. While it may not have been the project for you in 2014, perhaps it is now.

 

*BOOK PITCH*

 

FOR THE LOVE is a fantasy complete at 82,000 words. I’ve attached the revised first five pages as instructed—still love your website, by the way, and your fun facts on querying, and that you haven’t blogged in a while, story of my life, right there—and I’m kind of hoping to high heaven you deleted my first query. Then again, if you compare the two, maybe it’ll show my growth.

I look forward to hearing from you, and Cheers! for the new year.

Gina Larsen
*personal info*

 

Okay, so that fancy query got a killer reply in under 2 hours!

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Can I just say I was thrilled without sounding crazy? Sure, I wanted her to request pages, but look at that. So encouraging, so real, and so human. How many times have we fallen out of love with a genre, a series, or a character/authors work? Usually, it’s not because we hate it. We just need something ELSE. Something DIFFERENT.

I can’t fault her at all for her honestly or feelings.

I broke the rules, I think, because I replied back:

Response

 

AND YOU KNOW WHAT?

SHE REPLIED AGAIN!

 

She said 82K was perfect, and to definitely keep her in mind for the contemporary.

And that’s it, folks.

Be kind, have hope, and query on.

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I’ve been toying around with using my voice and personality to write a query to some agents that I’ve been looking at, and there’s days where it feels like I’m in a bar, hitting on them. Don’t wanna come on to strong, but I wanna be like Sam Hunt, and just put myself out there.

Think I could use this as intro to my query letter?

*Dear Agent,*

I’m one of those people who actually loved blind dates back when I was dating, but can we admit that a cold query letter is worse than a blind date? While I thrive the first few minutes of awkward introductions and find the get-to-know-you questions that follow delicious, that’s just not happening in a query. Still. Unless you put yourself out there, you never know. So, it’s no surprise that I write about Cupid.  Except, he’s not the Cupid you think he is.

Probably not, I know.